“Saifullah Paracha: The Kind Father, Brother, and Friend for All at Guantánamo” by Mansoor Adayfi


Saifullah Paracha, photographed at Guantanamo several years ago (wearing white to show his status as a well-behaved prisoner) and Mansoor Adayfi photographed in Serbia when he was allowed to use the central library to study.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.


The following article was published on the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner.Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Those who take an interest in Guantánamo will have come across the story of Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni and a former prisoner, who was resettled in Serbia in July 2016, and has become a talented writer in English. He has had articles published in the New York Times, and he wrote an essay about the prisoners’ relationship with the sea that was featured in the catalog for “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork at the John Jay College of Justice in New York that ran from last October until January this year.

Remarkably, Mansoor Adayfi didn’t even speak English when he arrived at Guantánamo, but he learned it when, after years of anger at the injustice of his imprisonment at the injustice of his imprisonment, which brought him into regular conflict with the authorities, one of his lawyers, Andy Hart, encouraged him to have a more positive outlook. Mansoor’s transformation has been inspiring, but it was only recently that I became aware that another mentor for him was Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, and Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, who had provided support not only to Mansoor and to numerous other prisoners, but even to prison staff and guards.

In a Facebook post, Mansoor wrote that Saifullah “was a father, brother, friend, and teacher to us all,” and offered to trade places with him. I thought this was such a poignant offer that I wrote to him to ask if he would be interested in writing more about Saifullah for “Close Guantánamo” — and was delighted when he said yes. With bitter irony, while Mansoor has been released from Guantánamo, Saifullah Paracha, who has been such a positive presence for so many prisoners at Guantánamo, is still held, because of the U.S.’s obsession with his alleged involvement with al-Qaeda, which he continues to deny. Just last week, he had a Periodic Review Board hearing, a parole-type process established under Barack Obama, at which his attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis of Reprieve, spoke eloquently about how he doesn’t pose a threat to the U.S., but it remains to be seen if the authorities are capable of understanding.

Mansoor’s article is posted below, and if you like it, please consider making a donation to help to support him and his writing. As I explained when I wrote about him last month, he faces hostility from the Serbian authorities, who are threatening to cut off his support and to send him to a country with a poor human rights record, and any financial support you can give him would be greatly appreciated. The fundraiser has been set up by Erin Thompson, one of the curators of “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” who wrote here about how she got to know Mansoor, and who gets straight to the point in her fundraiser by stating, “Mansoor needs funds to write and to live.” As she also explains, “Because GoFundMe campaigns cannot be linked to Serbian bank accounts, I have created a dedicated U.S. bank account for this fundraiser. I will transfer all the accumulated funds to Mansoor’s bank account on the first day of each month.”

If you like what you read below, PLEASE make a donation to help Mansoor keep writing.

The Kind Father, Brother, and Friend for All at Guantánamo
By Mansoor Adayfi

In Guantánamo, I spent years and years being moved from block to block, all the time in solitary confinement. Through all those years I was growing up physically, but I was deteriorating mentally and psychologically. I was just a number — 441 — in a small steel box.

That how was my life was from 2002 until 2010. In the middle of 2010, I was moved to a communal living camp, Camp 6, where the rules were relaxed. I wanted to learn English but there wasn’t much assistance provided. My lawyer, Andy Hart, sent me a dictionary and some books to learn the language and that helped me. I also spent some time with the guards, learning from them, but not all the guards were interested in helping me.

For years and years, I heard that there was a detainee from Pakistan who liked to help other detainees, and taught them English. I heard many good things about him. The detainees and guards called him Chacha — it means “uncle” in the Urdu language. I hoped to meet him in Camp 6 but at the time he was in another camp.

Chacha the teacher

“Knowledge is the light in your life, and the more knowledge you have, the brighter and more blessed life will be,” Chacha says.

Chacha’s classroom

In 2012, I received the welcome news that my most sought after fellow detainee, Chacha, had been moved to Camp 6, but he was in another block, so I didn’t meet him for another few months. Finally I was able to see him and talk to him through the fence. I was happy to see him and to meet him at last, and the very first time I met him I liked him. I told him that I wanted to learn English, and immediately he said, “OK, we start tomorrow.”

We had limited time in the recreation area, so we agreed to meet in a passage that led to the recreation area, with a fence separating us. However, we couldn’t study there because all the detainees knew Chacha, and everyone wanted to talk to him and have fun with him. Chacha has a sense of humor that attracts everyone, especially that cheery smile on his face that makes you want to say something back. He is extremely educated and can converse with anyone. He said, “We can’t study here, you have to move to my block where I can teach you with others who want to learn. Your brothers here want to sit with me and talk to me. I have to treat you equally, and we must share and care.” That was the first time I heard that phrase. Later on, he taught us how to share and care.

I was moved to Delta Block where Chacha was. I joined the class with three other detainees with the same interest in learning English. He asked us to help him to convert one of the cells (cell number 105) into a classroom. We managed to turn that cell into a real classroom with chairs, a table that was made of cardboard, books, pens, paper, a clock, a sign on the wall about classroom rules, the value of time and knowledge, and a schedule of Chacha’s classes. In no time at all the classroom was known throughout the detention center, to detainees and staff alike, as Chacha’s classroom. Everyone — camp staff, guards, ICRC representatives and detainees — all came to see Chacha’s classroom.

I was surprised by his schedule. His first class would start at 8:00 am and the last class would end at 9:30 pm. Chacha was very strict and very punctual, although he also had a sense of humor when he taught. He used to teach around eight classes a day for detainees and guards. Yes, you heard that right — guards. The guards loved him and had a great respect for him. Nobody could resist respecting him. He taught those guards about business and history.

We studied English for a couple of weeks, and one day Chacha asked us, “When you leave Guantánamo what work will you do?” We said we didn’t know. He said, “I will teach you how to start a business.” We didn’t like the idea because we wanted to learn English, but he insisted and said, “I will teach you business in English, so we can continue our classes in English.” We studied for a couple of months, working on writing in cursive script, reading and learning about business.

Eventually, we managed to prepare a business plan — for a “milk and honey” farm business in Yemen.

This was the first business plan that was written at Guantánamo and it was the fruit of our teacher’s efforts.

Many detainees learned English with Chacha, and managed to learn to speak well. Some learned about business. We weren’t allowed to have books about American history, so Chacha gave us some classes and wrote around 40 pages about history. Some guards also got another opportunity to learn, as Chacha also taught detainees and guards how to cook.

Chacha the chef

“Eat what your body needs, not what the mouth cries for,” Chacha says.

When our father Chacha cooked, that day would be one of our happy days. Because Chacha is from Pakistan, where people like spicy food, his family sent him spices, which he saved for the time when he cooked for all of us, detainees and guards. He used to cook for us twice a week, and we all were waiting for those days to have a nice meal that wasn’t the camp food we ate for years and years. He would cook the food for two different palates — either with spices or without — and the food would be distributed among the blocks, and also for some guards who liked our food. He wouldn’t eat until he made sure that every block got their share.

However, if you meet Chacha one day, make sure to tell him how you like your food or you may end up having very spicy food that will make you cry!

Chacha the father, the friend, and the brother

“All of you — detainees and guards — are my kids,” Chacha says.

Chacha is a successful businessman and a successful man in his life, a husband and father.

Chacha is a very keen person, and with his good reputation among detainees and guards, and the good manners that he has, he won the hearts of us all.

During one of my difficult times in Guantánamo, when I spent all my time in my cell not eating or talking to anyone, Chacha called me to come to his cell where he shared with me some of the gifts he got from his family and his lawyers — sweets, cake, juice, dried fruit, almonds, pistachios. He saves these items for significant occasions, for celebrations, for his guests — and for detainees when they get sick.

He knew that I was having a hard time so we talked about it like father and son. He treated me as his own son, and I love him like a father. He showed me his family photos, nice photos, he told me about his kids, his love story that had a happy ending with him marrying that lovely woman that is his wife. While I was staring at his daughter’s photo, he snatched it from my hand, saying, lightheartedly, “Don’t worry, one day you will be a father.” I knew it was rude to stare, but I was curious about what kind of family he has.

He told me the story of his son, Uzair, who was wrongly jailed, and about how his family suffered after his arrest. He wasn’t complaining, we were just chatting, and he was trying to make me talk. When I listened to his story I was ashamed to say anything, and I knew how he suffers in silence, and that the coronary disease he has might lead to his death at any time. Yet I left his cell in better spirits, and even smiling because of his sense of humor.

One time I was sick and couldn’t attend the class. When he found out, he came to my cell carrying some gifts, and would visit me every day until I got better, and would ask if I had eaten, and if I needed anything. This is how we lived with him. He did this with all the detainees around him, and for those who he couldn’t get to he would send his regards and whatever he could, and would ask about them every day.

Chacha has a young soul that attracts people. He would help anyone he could. When General Motors shares went down during the economic crisis in the U.S., Chacha advised one of the interrogators to buy some shares. He told him, “Go and buy some shares, the price will go up in no time.” I remember when he told us that the interrogator came back later to thank him for that advice. He sold the shares a year later and made a profit of about $170,000!

Chacha is the father, brother, and the friend to all of us at Guantánamo — detainees, camp staff and guards — and he was the beating heart of the camp where we lived. Every block wanted to take him; in fact, we had to fight with other blocks to keep him. It was a blessing to have him around. He would spend some time everyday watching the news and writing down what was going on, so that later he could go to those who didn’t have access to the TV and tell them the news. The same process took place when he received something printed in English. He would spend time reading it and report to those who couldn’t speak English.

He always wrote to the camp administration about the problems we had in the camp. He wrote to the White House and Congress giving them advice. A detainee told me that Chacha had told him in 2005 that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States. I went to Chacha and asked if that was right. “Yes,” he said, “and I wrote to Obama telling him that.”

Chacha helped all of us to prepare for the PRBs (the Periodic Review Boards) that President Obama introduced in 2013. Some of us — and I was one of them — were refusing to participate in the PRBs, but Chacha convinced us, and some of us went just for his sake, myself included.

Some of us who liked to take care of pets tried to do the same with the various wildlife at Guantánamo. We made a schedule for those who wanted to feed and take care of them, and Chacha asked to be included. He would wake up early in the morning to feed the animals and to clean the recreation area.

We were very happy to have him with us in the block, and we all felt that we had a father there that was able to comfort us. But we all were worried about his health. Chacha has many health issues like diabetes, blood pressure, gout, cholesterol, clogged arteries, and coronary disease, and when he had a problem with his heart, we all panicked. We didn’t want him to die in Guantánamo, not like this.

I always told him if my time came before his I wanted him to take my place. When I left Guantánamo I thought that the detention center would be closed and Chacha would leave, but here we are, the detention center is still open and Chacha is still there.

That hurts me more than anything, and when I say I want to take his place at Guantánamo I’m deadly serious about it, and I still want to go back to take his place. I don’t want my father to die in Guantánamo. I can’t even think about it. It hurts me that he is still there. I want him to go back to his family and to spend the rest of his life with them. Keeping him at Guantánamo means sentencing him to death. I can only wonder what kind of a threat a 71-year old man with all kinds of health issues can possibly pose to a superpower like the United States.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s the cross-post of a world exclusive article I published yesterday on http://www.closeguantanamo.org – an article by the former #Guantanamo prisoner (and talented writer) Mansoor Adayfi, about his friendship with and admiration for Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani prisoner who, at 71 years of age, is Guantanamo’s oldest current prisoner. This is a moving account of Paracha, a model prisoner whose support and positive nature has helped numerous prisoners with their lives, as a teacher, cook and father figure (and who has also made friends amongst the US guards and staff), and yet the authorities still regard him as a threat.

    If you like what you read here, please consider making a donation to the fundraiser set up for him by Erin Thompson, a New York professor who was one of the curators of a Guantanamo art show last year for which Mansoor wrote a stunning introduction. He is having a hard time in Serbia, where he was resettled, and needs your help to survive – and to keep writing! https://www.gofundme.com/support-mansoor039s-guantanamo-memoir

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Julie Alley wrote:

    Andy, happy to contribute to help Mansoor. Will give again soon.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Julie. That’s very kind of you. One of my hopes for this article was that publishing it might help with Mansoor’s fundraiser – and that, if that works out, I could perhaps publish another piece by him at some point, to help out again.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Sanchez Montebello wrote:

    Sharing, Andy
    (In hopes one of my friends will see this and can help)

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sanchez!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Brigid Mary Oates wrote:

    Thank you xx

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Brigid. I’m very happy to be able to help to get Mansoor’s writing out to people, and, of course, the disgraceful treatment of Saifullah Paracha – holding him forever without charge or trial despite him being a model prisoner – is worthy of as much exposure as possible.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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